For backers of the Rockets, it was a mystery tinged with foreboding. Already, the team had seen star point guard Russell Westbrook test positive for COVID-19, forcing him to miss joining his teammates on the campus of the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World for the start of the NBA’s coming reboot. When fellow star James Harden didn’t show up either, speculation and fear sprouted up—maybe Harden had the virus, too.
Not so, said Harden, who rolled into the NBA’s “bubble” environment late Tuesday night, two days after his teammates, and hit the practice floor on Thursday.
When asked about the delay, Harden said in a virtual press conference, “I had some family issues but I am happy I’m here. I feel actually really, really good to be with the guys and getting after it, just pushing our way. Every single day is a challenge for us. But I think we’re taking the right steps.”
Harden did not expand upon the nature of the family issues, but no matter—coach Mike D’Antoni was not concerned about his absence. Harden arrived in tip-top shape and ready for the Rockets’ scrimmage schedule, which begins next week.
“To be honest with you, today, he went through the full practice just like anybody else and his wind was as good as anybody else’s,” D’Antoni said, also in a virtual press conference. “Obviously, he has been working anyway. They ramped him up well before he got here. So I’m really pleased. I think in the scrimmages, he’ll want to play.”
Is James Harden’s Rockets Load Too Heavy for Reconfigured Schedule?
Harden’s desire to play could present a problem in Orlando. The Rockets will play their eight seeding games over a two-week period and have a game every other day except one two-day break, on August 7 and 8. Houston plays a back-to-back on August 11 and 12.
Harden leads the NBA in scoring averaging (34.4 points per game) and is second in minutes (36.7) and field-goals attempted (22.7). He’s a good candidate to get worn out by the tightness of the return-to-play schedule.
D’Antoni did not sound all that worried about that, though.
“I trust the medical staff, they talk to him and work with him and watch his loads on the computer,” D’Antoni said. “They’ll do everything they can to protect him. And James is smart. He knows his body, he knows what he needs to do. … He loves to play. He’s the ultimate professional on what he needs to do to get ready. So I trust him totally.”
James Harden: NBA Can ‘Give the World Something to Look Forward To’
Even with Westbrook unable to join the team until he undergoes a 14-day quarantine, Harden was in good spirits. The rest of the Rockets have reported for training camp, with the exception of newly signed forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who is not yet with the team. No reason was given for his absence.
But like the rest of the world, Harden said the four months since the NBA put the season on hold on March 11 because of the spread of the novel coronavirus have been exceptionally trying. If the league can maintain the sanctity of its “bubble,” keep the coronavirus out and get back on the floor with a reasonably successful return to action, it will be a boost in this country and globally.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Harden said. “It has been so many things. Every single day was so new, it was something different that hit the world, that hit the social media. For us, it was bigger than basketball. But I feel like now it is a great opportunity to give the world something positive to look forward to. With the racial issues going on, and the COVID and everything, there was just a lot of craziness in the last four months. So hopefully with the NBA being back, we can give some positive energy, give the world something to look forward to as far as watching us play and hopefully we can just keep moving forward.”
Now that Harden is present and accounted for in the Orlando “bubble,” he can get the Rockets started on their move forward, too.